9 votes

Optimizing for test scores

I hate how much time school takes from me. The semester for me is just a period of un-productivity, of completing assignments that don't teach me anything, of studying materials for a test I'll do bad on, about knowledge I'll forget as soon as there are no more tests on it. School stresses me out, makes me anxious, destroys my ability to think and get into a flow and be active. School makes me lazy, it makes me tired, it makes me hate the world.

I want to learn. I want to sit down at my desk and get into a flow and experiment and learn new things and become better as a result. Instead I'm optimizing for test scores.

I'm not building things. I'm not even really studying. I'm a professional student, going for the points, and paying tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege.

I hate tests. They are fundamentally flawed for the objective of teaching. Two of my classes are entirely test-based, and they're the classes from which I have learned nothing. My other two classes have included programming projects and essays as part of our grade. That's the knowledge I will retain, that is the information I have actually learned. But even still, those projects and essays in those classes count for a tiny percentage of their overall class grades. The majority of the grades still come from tests. From judging students based on their ability to memorize information, not to understand or practice or apply the knowledge of the class.

Why? Why do we insist on testing students, on passing or failing them, on determining their future and institutional worth, on their ability to memorize information? Why do we give them these stressful impending tests with stressful impending due dates that cover a stressful, bloated number of topics? This is not learning. This is not education. This is gamified class-passing. Why do we structure things this way? Is it so administrations can quantify education and try to demonstrate progress? I don't get it. I fucking hate it.

At the end of every semester. Every goddamn fucking semester, I'm exhausted, burnt out, and just so done with anything and everything that requires me to think. I end up having this stupid recovery period of about a month where I just laze about, playing video games and reflexively rejecting anything that requires thought. School inflicts upon me, mentally, the equivalent of breaking a bone.

I fucking hate this. I want to make things and be creative and active especially during the precious months when I am not taking classes. I hate that school spoils this for me.

7 comments

  1. Akir
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    I have always hated the gap between education and certification. I was pretty quick to pick up concepts when I was a kid, and so most of the time I spent at school before college was just me...

    I have always hated the gap between education and certification. I was pretty quick to pick up concepts when I was a kid, and so most of the time I spent at school before college was just me messing around and not even bothering to do assignments because half of the time I could just take the test and not bother studying and still pass. The one class where this didn't work - high school "English I" - actually got me in trouble because it was the only class where that approach didn't work and the school district required it to graduate. The work was so far beneath my level that it actually felt insulting, especially considering that upper level literature classes were usually the only ones I found to be engaging.

    That's probably why I think testing is much more valuable than most people do.

    In spite of how much my teachers would complain about it, I honestly believe that testing is the right way to go for a number of reasons. In the high school level it was because most assignments were busy work and I didn't really see the point in endless drills if we understood the concept. But beyond that, how do we determine the skills of a group of people in an objective manner without testing? I've heard a lot of talk about people who are 'bad at testing' but I've always thought of that a something of a cop-out; the only explanations I have seen that excuse bad test scores in spite of mastery were reading comprehension issues (most commonly if you were taking a test in a non-native language) or if you had learning disabilities (which would usually be accommodated for in one way or another depending on the specific disability). Yes, there are such things as bad tests, but for the most part tests are the best way to measure benchmarks or to determine mastery over a subject, and standardized testing should, in theory, increase the chances that your test was well designed so the subjects who have mastered the skills will succeed.

    I should also mention that my college career has been much more fulfilling overall. Though there are a bunch of classes where the professors have far too many assignments (usually because I'm taking an accelerated class and they haven't adjusted the course load appropriately), for the most part I enjoyed my assignments because I felt that I was actually learning from them. I put so much effort into my college level English assignments because it was incredibly fulfilling to have my ideas challenged and then put into a concrete form, almost as if to say that my ideas were objectively correct.

    6 votes
  2. teaearlgraycold
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    I've definitely felt this way before. I think it helps to have your own priorities and goals. When I was in college I was there to learn. In classes I did not enjoy I did the bare minimum (which...

    I've definitely felt this way before. I think it helps to have your own priorities and goals. When I was in college I was there to learn. In classes I did not enjoy I did the bare minimum (which surprisingly would often earn a B or A because of low standards) and everything else I went all in. If I got a C or D it didn't matter to me because when I gave a shit I'd always do well. For the programming classes that I enjoyed, I would spend hours not just learning the technique at hand but also general software engineering principles and finding my own style that optimized for readability and easy comprehension.

    5 votes
  3. Jakobeha
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    How much does GPA - especially that last 0.2 which will get you a perfect 4 - matter? Grades are important, but grades aren't the most important part of your college education. Nobody really cares...

    How much does GPA - especially that last 0.2 which will get you a perfect 4 - matter?

    Grades are important, but grades aren't the most important part of your college education. Nobody really cares about super high GPAs unless you're going into grad school, and even then you don't have to be perfect - I got into grad school with As and Bs.

    Spending less time on school and more time on a fulfilling side project or even just learning isn't just ok, it can actually help you in your future academic / career path significantly more than grades ever could.

    5 votes
  4. kfwyre
    (edited )
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    I see a lot of my college self in this post. I had a similar crisis of conscience and felt frustration at what felt like jumping through meaningless hoops. It was made even worse by the fact that...

    I see a lot of my college self in this post. I had a similar crisis of conscience and felt frustration at what felt like jumping through meaningless hoops. It was made even worse by the fact that I switched degrees partway through my college career and had to fight to have the stuff I’d previously completed even recognized. The university was ready to discard two years of my hard work simply because I changed paths, all while not letting me take classes they told me I now needed because I had “too many hours” that locked me out from enrolling in them. It was infuriating and highlighted just how focused my school was on bureaucratic nonsense rather than actual education.

    College is in many ways an incredible educational experience, but it can also be outright bullshit sometimes, and it sounds like you’re in a bullshit patch.

    In theory the bad should ebb and the good should flow again. I found that each semester at college was its own microcosm, so even if you’re in some bullshit right now, it doesn’t mean you’ll be in it indefinitely.

    Also, not sure if this is feasible/desirable for you at all, but one of the game-changers for me was taking summer classes. Normally I jealously guard that time off, but during college I needed to work and had a job at my university, so since I needed to be there anyway, I enrolled in summer classes. I ended up loving the faster pace they went at, and knocking out some credits that way meant I had to take less during the fall and spring semesters, which correspondingly made those easier and more fun. The first summer I enrolled out of a sense of obligation, but the following summers I did it because I genuinely wanted to!

    If it suits you, I’d recommend trying something like that. Not only were summer courses more enjoyable (faster pace AND less people? Sign me up!), but they also reduced my workload in regular semesters, which helped me trudge through some of the crappier ones much easier. Bullshit is much more manageable when it comes in the form of only 12 credit hours in a semester rather than 18.

    Also, regardless of any advice offered here by me or anyone, I hope you find some peace. When I hit my limit in college it felt like my world turned upside down and I didn’t even know what I was doing there. What was my purpose? Why was I working so hard? Where was this going to get me? Does any of this even fucking matter?

    Those questions rocked me to my core and opened up a considerable amount of doubt, fear, and frustration in me. It felt like all my life I’d been walking down a path but then I looked down and there was suddenly no path at all and I realized I was completely lost.

    I feel like I see some of that same texture in your post here, so please know that I get it and it sucks. It really does. And I hope you find comfort soon. The path is still there, even if you can’t see it right now. I couldn’t either at the time, but I found my way back to it, and I’m confident you will too.

    5 votes
  5. streblo
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    Self-driven learning is always an option. There’s no requirement beyond availability for going to a library or sitting down at a computer and structuring your own learning. We might think that's...

    Why? Why do we insist on testing students, on passing or failing them, on determining their future and institutional worth, on their ability to memorize information? Why do we give them these stressful impending tests with stressful impending due dates that cover a stressful, bloated number of topics? This is not learning. This is not education. This is gamified class-passing. Why do we structure things this way?

    Self-driven learning is always an option. There’s no requirement beyond availability for going to a library or sitting down at a computer and structuring your own learning. We might think that's what a university ought to be equivalent too – but that's not what university’s are anymore. They’re selling a credential. The usefulness of such a credential may be debatable, but again, see option one. Option two is to recognize that the hoops are there to (try to?) make the credential worthwhile, and to jump through them as required if you want the credential.

    In my experience, I had similar frustrations while in university – taking a full engineering course load was often a hellish grind and an engineering degree is so broad because they have to teach so many aspects of it – each of which is useless to somebody not interested in that portion of the field. But I guess I was lucky enough to have had professors who graded pretty fairly – classes that made sense as project-based were project-based rather than test based for example.

    And I don’t think tests are inherently useless, although they certainly can be. Many problem based tests (e.g. math/physics/engineering) boil down to:

    • here is a problem
    • given the information, identify correctly which of ~10 types of problem this is
    • given the information, identify correctly which of ~3 variations of problem this is and which type of algorithm must be used to solve it
    • use the algorithm to solve the problem
    • be familiar enough with doing these problems as to complete them in the given time

    In my opinion, this is a decently fair way to demonstrate your understanding of topics like this. The repeated practice also helps you actually retain some of it. But many topics don’t really fit this formula, and professors can still try to shoehorn in tests which end up being rote memorization or similar.

    I strongly preferred these types of classes to the humanities classes I took in which most of your grade came from an end-of-term essay and perhaps an additional exam in which longform answers were required on some subset of topics from a given list. Having most of your grade come from a single essay, often churned out in a caffeine-driven marathon session alongside several other essays was more hellish than studying for finals, even if it was a more 'fair' assessment of your knowledge. At least studying for finals is something that can easily be done in a group, which certainly helps with the suffering.

    4 votes
  6. beezselzak
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    I'm still in school too. I have one more semester after this and then I'm done. Never to return. Eveeeeeeerrrrr!! hehe I stopped caring about grades this semester. Actually that's not true: I...

    I'm still in school too. I have one more semester after this and then I'm done. Never to return. Eveeeeeeerrrrr!! hehe

    I stopped caring about grades this semester. Actually that's not true: I stopped caring about getting straight A's, and I also stopped caring about completionism in my classes. If I like 60% understand a concept then I just stop reading the book, the end, don't care. I realized that I could get better grades by writing my psets in a way the TA likes than by, idk, ATTENDING LECTURE or taking overly detailed notes on everything. Kinda funny huh? But it bothers me less than it used to.

    I think I realized after working (job) some more that what you actually keep in your brain is not quite so very important. Like who tf needs to be able to quote the exact mathematical definition of Bayes' theorem and the Poisson distribution from memory? Nobody. maybe some stats nerd defending her thesis. (hahaha who would ever be in that position not me hahaha.) But even though I will forget it soon, it's nice that it will be familiar later. "Oh yeah, I know this, I took a class on it" is something I say/think alot, and I can relearn these things semi-easily if really necessary. And that appears to be fine for most things in my life.

    further nonsense

    I think my real takeaway from my writing classes is that I'm a pretentious bitch when I write words, and from my stem classes is that I'm a dumb bitch when I do math, except when I combine them and I become dumb AND pretentious. I probably wouldn't have figured that out if I didn't spend so much time doing things I thought were stupid in school, like writing a 12 page essay on the multiple meanings of the word "right" in Pride and Prejudice, or being forced to do proofs by induction in discrete math until I cried and the professor gave me a pity B.

    I suck at testing. I really am not good at it. I can't do things that fast, and I can't do things from memory: my whole worldview relies on not remembering things unless they are immediatley necessary to my survival, like "where is the closest place to get a half-decent grilled chicken sandwich at 2 AM" or "what is the name of this very attractive person I am speaking to." I don't think I have a learning disability, I'm just kind of willfully stupid because doing well enough on the test to get an A is just beyond the effort I care to expend.

    Maybe testing is needed for an education system on a mass scale. I can't change that. But I can shrug my shoulders and say "I will study for you, my silly examinatorial friend, despite your lack of utility in my workplace" and then when I think about all the Knowledge I'm missing out on by studying to the test I will say "dont care" and will learn about it when I feel like it and have time.

    If nothing else, the tests did teach me some humility, and they taught me how to set more reasonable expectations.

    tbh what has improved my life so much this semester has been dropping all my Responsibilities one-by-one. and living with people I actually like, and spending more time with them, and doing genuinely fun activities even if it means I fuck up on the test next Thursday. Honestly school is becoming sort of a "side project" to me, a side project to all the "side projects" that make my actual life fun, and work is the same way... oh I know it's so irresponsible to say these things, but I just can't help it. My life is so much better now that I don't give a Fuck about academic perfection.

    fun things
    • I like to dance sometimes so I have started to do that 2x a week or sometimes 3x, even if I am tired and busy. (I have only missed it 1 time and that was because half my thesis was due the next day)
    • I don't watch TV but I like my roommates and we all sit down at 10 pm every night and watch something entertaining and don't do work after because Work Is Banned After 10 pm (very important rule)
    • I have begun to do spontaneous things that are simply Fun like leaving halfway through a boring lecture to skateboard with my friend (he's good at it, I'm not) and then coming back, might invite professor next time
    • Walk around the rich part of town and laugh at all the weirdly bad architecture in 3.5 million dollar homes, until we find a really really really really big pumpkin at one house and forgive the poor taste of all the homeowners, even the ones without pumpkins, because everyone deserves a really big pumpkin and they just haven't found theirs yet :))
    • smooch
    • gromit mug
    • Race Everyone in the Dorm to See Who is the Fastest, and Draw a Big Crowd
    • COMPLETE THE NEW YORK TIMES CROSSWORD PUZZLE ON A SATURDAY??!? TEAM EFFORT

    I have brushed off doing work for a whole hour and a half to write this comment because I think it is more fun to talk to you than to look at a silly textbook all evening. Will this hurt me down the road? No it will not, because I know I am smart enough to finish this problem set without spending every waking hour thinking about it. And I know this despite not being very good at my major relative to some other people, certainly on tests, even when I try my hardest; the more time I spend doing NOT school-related things, the more those school things seem real themselves. Understandable in the context they are really in. Part of the degree, perhaps useful, perhaps interesting, but nothing to kill myself over.

    I hope you keep your head up in school (but not so high you get a neck cramp) and that you find great joy in something other than tests, because there are a lot of things to enjoy!!!!!! dm if you want

    xoxoxo
    beezselzak

    3 votes
  7. vektor
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    I can't help much with the tests and the studying. I can tell you what I wish I did: Make the knowledge you learned permanently accessible to you in a semi-organized manner. Use whatever form is...

    I can't help much with the tests and the studying. I can tell you what I wish I did: Make the knowledge you learned permanently accessible to you in a semi-organized manner. Use whatever form is convenient to you, and don't even shoot for completeness. If you're only taking a class for the score, forget it. If you find a class interesting (or even potentially relevant in the future), take some notes. Organize them. Nevermind that these notes, at the level of detail I'm thinking (and the kind of tests I experienced) should greatly help you learn.

    Why? I've finished my studies not too long ago and I already find myself thinking back and wishing I had these kinds of notes. Occasionally, only; only when I need a piece of knowledge I know I once learned. But it does happen.

    2 votes